Resource Use

TV chef wages ‘war on waste’

TV chef wages ‘war on waste’
Fearnley-Whittingstall stands in front of a week's worth of rejected parsnips for one farm.
Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is investigating food waste in the UK for Hugh’s War on Waste, a BBC documentary series that began last night (Monday 2 November).

In the first of two hour-long episodes, broadcast on BBC1 at 9.00pm last night, Fearnley-Whittingstall investigated food and household waste across the supply chain.

Cosmetic standards

Visiting a Norfolk parsnip farm that supplies the vegetable to Morrisons, the programme highlighted how produce is subjected to stringent aesthetic restrictions. When processing parsnips for inclusion in the supermarket’s two products, smaller pre-packed and larger loose parsnips, those considered too short or ‘too wonky’ were discarded.

Though discarded produce can be sent to be used as animal feed or soup ingredients, the amount of produce at the farm destined for disposal in a single week amounted to around 20 tonnes, enough to fill, the programme found, around 280 shopping trolleys.

As well as causing a huge amount of food waste, the cosmetic restrictions have led to the farm running at a loss and facing closure.

Tristram Stuart, creator of food waste campaign Feedback and previous commentator for Resource magazine, then showed Fearnley-Whittingstall a batch of apples that had been rejected due to standards of redness.

He said: “You’d have to be an expert or a machine to tell the difference between rejected parsnips and the parsnips that end up on supermarket shelves. Their policies are causing hidden mountains of food waste… across the country.”

“We’ve proved that the public will buy so-called cosmetically imperfect fruit and vegetables. In 2012, 300,000 tonnes of ugly, cosmetically imperfect fruit and vegetables were sold. There was a really bad harvest, we lost 40 per cent of the potatoes in this country and… just put into our supermarkets those ugly potatoes that previously would have been rejected. No one even noticed. Potato sales stayed the same, no one got more complaints.

“The bottom line is those potato standards are far too strict and they need to be relaxed. To cause waste on this scale is criminal, it’s unspeakable in fact.”

Fast food waste

During the programme, Fearnley-Whittingstall also considered the waste of the fast food industry. While independent fried chicken shops reported that up to 10 pieces of chicken were thrown away each day when asked, a branch of KFC suggested their figure was closer to two dustbins’ worth.

Using ‘reported’ figures from a previous BBC documentary – The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop – that claimed that each branch throws away around three tonnes of chicken a year, the chef calculated that across the chain’s 850 UK branches, 2,550 tonnes, around 2.5 million chickens, are thrown away annually.

Janet Cox, Head of Health, Safety and Environment at KFC UK, said that half of the reported three tonnes of waste comprised chicken, with the rest other food waste. She told the programme that the chain is piloting schemes in six branches that see unused chicken redistributed to local community projects. KFC is committed to having schemes in place in half of its UK stores by the end of 2016, she said.

Household waste

Fearnley-Whittingstall picks out a useable pair of slippers from the Gardner Road waste
Finally, addressing waste from the household, Fearnley-Whittingstall launched a nine-week experiment on Gardner Road in Prestwich, Greater Manchester, chosen to represent an average British street.

After helping operatives from waste management company Viridor collect the street’s residual waste, the recovered haul was searched for reusable and recyclable material with Denise Catley, Viridor’s Education Officer for the Greater Manchester contract. After being cleaned, the items, including clothes and kitchen utensils were put on a stall in the community and handed out for free to residents.

A select group were then given a tour of a material recovery facility (MRF) to show how recyclable items are sorted and processed, and then used to create reprocessed products.

Commenting on the prgoramme, Martin Grey, Head of Media Relations & Public Affairs for Viridor, said: “Hugh’s War on Waste, broadcast on primetime BBC1, was a great and timely opportunity to tell the real success story of UK recycling.  It was a real reminder of why recycling matters and the important part the public play around ‘right stuff, right bin’. More than that, the programme challenged some common myths and presented the economic as well as environmental case for a more circular economy.

“Keeping recycling simple and accessible is key to its success. As such, it was great that both our award-winning facilities and education team were showcased. Colleagues like Denise connect with communities every day, making a real difference to council recycling performance. With residents thinking again about how they recycled, we look forward to looking at the progress made in the next episode.”

The second episode of the programme will air next Monday (9 November) on BBC1 at 9.00pm.

#WASTENOT appeal

Along with the documentary, Fearnley-Whittingstall has launched an appeal calling on supermarkets ‘to put a stop’ to the practice of ‘wasting millions of tonnes of food a year’.

The #WASTENOT appeal asks supermarkets to ‘take responsibility for the waste that they cause in the supply chain’ and to ‘relax their cosmetic standards for produce and to stop changing orders at the last moment’, as well as making ‘strenuous and visible efforts to redistribute all their surplus good food to those who are in need, instead of sending it to anaerobic digestion’.

Those joining the appeal by emailing Fearnly-Whittingstall with a form letter also pledge to reduce their own food waste ‘through smarter shopping and storage’ to ‘use up… leftovers where possible’, and to be ‘vigilant about… recycling’.

Watch ‘Hugh’s War on Waste’ on BBC iPlayer (available until 2 December 2015) or sign up to his #WASTENOT appeal.

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